Contributors: Janet L. Anderson, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center

In the last few years, fire incidence in Guatemala has increased, damaging and transforming wild areas into degraded forests, savannas and sterile lands. Atrocious events have been registered in which millions of hectares including forests and wild lands burned, in some cases recurrently.

In Guatemala, a geospatial information support system for fire management at the national level does not currently exist. With support from the U. S. Agency for International Development (USAID), NASA, and the Water Center for the Humid Tropics of Latin America and the Caribbean (CATHALAC ), SERVIR-Mesoamerica—a pilot project for the Geospatial Information System for Fire Management (SIGMA-I) in Guatemala—was developed to generate products that highlight the importance of systematic and informed planning for prevention and control of wildfires. It is expected that the data and information generated will increase the visibility of the problem of fires in the country. The program will facilitate the management of more resources for fire management and reinforce permanent monitoring mechanisms at the national level.

Africa Flores worked with the SIGMA-I project as a research scientist with SERVIR-Mesoamerica before joining the SERVIR Coordination Office in Huntsville, Ala., in 2011. A Guatemalan citizen, Flores reflects on the successes of the SIGMA-I story: “One of the success stories of the SIGMA-I project is how much the country was able to do using satellite-based information through an interagency cooperation. With USAID support, SERVIR provided seed funding to develop a high-tech system to monitor Guatemala’s natural resources. This project currently represents one of the most advanced systems to monitor and evaluate forest fires in Mesoamerica and the Caribbean.”

SIGMA-1 project products include:

  • Fire Atlas of Guatemala: Composed of two main products: a) a compilation of ignition data (satellite observations of hot spots) and their contextual analysis from the perspective of their relation to social-environmental and temporal factors, and b) fire scars derived from medium-resolution satellite data (Landsat TM, Landsat ETM, ASTER) during the period 1998-2009 for the entire country, and a map of fire scar recurrence and statistics derived from the datasets produced
  • Pattern analysis and ignition cause model: A map of ignition risk derived from statistical analysis of factors associated with fire and ignition occurrence, associated statistics for administrative units and protected areas as well as a diagnosis of causes and patterns of fire occurrence in Guatemala.
  • Dynamic fire risk evaluation system: A fire risk evaluation system in near-real time with daily updates based on climatic parameters that allows for the evaluation of fire propagation and occurrence risk in a spatial manner throughout the country, and a diagnosis of climate’s influence on fire propagation risk in Guatemala.
  • Synthesis: Synthesis products include a) national project report, b) ignition poster, c) fire scar poster, d) poster of the pattern analysis and ignition cause model, e) poster of the dynamic fire risk evaluation system, f) compilation of geospatial data generated, and g) compilation of intermediate products generated (presentations, reports).

The products are managed by National Protected Areas Council and the Center for Monitoring and Evaluation or CONAP-CEMEC from its main office for fire forecasting in Petén, Guatemala. Executing institutions in the area include the National Protected Areas Council or (CONAP), the National Forestry Institute (INAB), the National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction / National Forest Fire Prevention and Control System (CONRED/SIPECIF), and the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN), with the support of USAID, NASA, CATHALAC and SERVIR. The analysis was originally developed for Guatemala, but is planned to expand throughout other countries in the area, including the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Workshops are being held in Guatemala to train local officials on how to use the products.

Continuous operation of the forecasting system is planned for the upcoming dry season in Guatemala. In preparation, there are efforts under way to include additional datasets in the model, improving accuracy by using MODIS Risk Distance to Fire Point and field data from additional weather stations in Guatemala. The data that are currently being used have been collected over 12 years and have aided heavily in determining fire-scarred areas in protected areas. These recent events, along with the prospective occurrence of changes in the climate, highlight the need to address the problem of fires in the wilderness as systematically and with as much information as possible. This forecasting system is the first major effort for use by local decision-makers that addresses the problems associated with wildfires. As more reliable information becomes available, it is expected that better decisions will be made for the good of the environment and the people who rely upon it.

The SERVIR program is operated by the Earth Science Division’s Applied Sciences Program in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Four other NASA field centers work with Marshall on the program: Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.; Ames Research Center in Moffet Field, Calif.; the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.; and Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.

Further Information:
NASA SERVIR Project
SERVIR Regional Visualization and Monitoring System